All roads lead to open data

The Cabinet Office have today launched the Open Data white paper, which brings together many of the strands from the government’s open data agenda over the last few years. I’m really pleased with the progress here – the data that government is opening up can help organisations like yours to better identify needs, design innovative services and campaign for change. The government have also committed to providing support for organisations through the Open Data Institute – I hope that charities can tap into this.

There are some challenges in this agenda:

  • making sure that open data is not just about economic growth, but also about improving services and people’s lives
  • civil society needs to be represented on new bodies like the Open Data User Group and the Data Strategy Board.
  • voluntary organisations need to build up the skills and knowledge to get the most out of open data.
  • keeping the government to its promises about opening up data – even when it is inconvenient or might show a policy isn’t working.

We’ve also been thinking about our response to the Charity Commission’s consultation on their information strategy. They are looking for views about the information they collect – particularly the annual report. But we’ve taken the opportunity to also think a bit wider about the role of the Charity Commission’s data.

People who are involved with open data often talk about the importance of “core reference datasets” – things like lists of postcodes – that enable other data services to be built on top of them. I’ve seen a few people today mention the Postcode Address File (PAF) as a core dataset that should be opened up.

In our draft response to the Commission’s consultation, we suggest that the Register of Charities is the core reference dataset for the sector. The Commission has done a great job over the last few years of putting this data online so that people can look up information about charities. This has been great for transparency and accountability.

We think it’s now time for the Charity Commission to go a step further. By embracing some simple open data principles – unique and simple web addresses for each charity record, publishing the data in machine readable formats like json or xml – the Register of Charities can become a data hub for the sector. You might have seen which does this already.

We’ve produced a draft response to the Charity Commission consultation, which you can find below. We’ve proposed something quite ambitious, and this may seem strange at a time when organisations are under a lot of pressure. But we feel the open data agenda offers a chance to reduce reporting burdens and improve services.

We’d really like your thoughts on this draft – are we taking the right approach here? You can leave comments below or add them to the document itself.

Open data is still a new field for many of us. NCVO will be doing more work in the coming months to help our members make sense of it all, and opening our own data up. What data would you like to see NCVO release? We’re also really excited to be working with Nominet and Big Lottery Fund on open data plans – you can find out more about Nominet’s plans in Ed’s blog (he’s much better at coming up with blog titles than me!).

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David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.

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